Sunday, 25 September 2011

But walking is the best exercise!

This is my third attempt with weight training, and at 10 months, my longest attempt so far. And I'm glad of the progress I have made this time: I certainly don't feel like a beginner any more - I can talk the gobbledygook of GH and leptin levels, and the differences between a stiff-legged deadlift and a Romanian deadlift :)  But I'm also not an expert - there have been plenty of occasions where I have overtrained, and experienced soreness for days.

The typical beginner (and I could count myself as one when I started) encounters many problems when starting out with bodybuilding - there isn't adequate time to devote to the activity, form is always an issue, minor injuries keep occurring, the list goes on and on.  Beyond these, an issue that pops up is that one's support structure (friends, family, etc.) is not always supportive of an individual's weight training.  Even my doctor said, "You don't need weight training, cardiovascular endurance should be more than adequate."  Another common comment I keep hearing is "Walking should be enough.  It's the best exercise!"

Walking is the best exercise - Really? Best for what? Can one set a goal saying "I'll walk till the strength in my shoulders improves"? How does walking help improve the flexibility of the neck?

I'm not trying to make fun of walkers or cardiovascular exercises.  In fact, I enjoy both running and cycling  - I don't run very regularly, but I love doing a 25 klick cycle ride as often as I can. But doing a cardiovascular activity in isolation can do the body a lot more harm than good.  Let me elaborate:
  • Running long distances hurts the knees [google for the phrase "joggers' knee" - it will flood your browser with a zillion results] - Seasoned runners know they have to complement their running with specific exercises for the glutes, hamstrings, and the back, in addition to the pre-run stretches
  • Cycling is a great exercise, but can take a toll on the back.  It's unnatural for the body to be crouched down for long periods, and this leads to muscle fatigue. lays out some resistance training tips for cyclists (and swimmers).  Even Lance Armstrong's training program mentions a few points on weight training - I would assume this includes hyperextension exercises for the back.

Now, walking may not be as intensive as running or cycling, so the wear & tear takes longer to appear, but as I sarcastically mentioned earlier, it can not help the body parts that it doesn't work out: walking can not help improve upper body strength and flexibility.  

So, here's my opinion: it helps the body more if a cardiovascular activity is done as part of a more comprehensive fitness program that ensures:
  • Coverage of as many muscle groups as possible
  • Increase in strength of muscles and joints
  • Increase in flexibility of the overall body
  • Endurance [the cardio will probably take care of that]
Now, body building isn't the only option to meet the above criteria. Other options include calisthenics, yoga, and pilates, to name a few.  So, pick one, and give your body the full-fledged fitness regimen it deserves. And please don't let others brainwash you by saying, "Exercise X is the best exercise."


Sridhar said...

Good one Chiranth. Whatever method - I see you rocking. So, continue. For me, I thought just walking across the office and few floors is good enough! :)Anyways on a serious note, I guess it depends on the objective and the nature of activities that entails going forward for the individual that determine the current work outs. It is another matter, like insurance, that we strengthen the body to be able to withstand some unforeseen activities in the future. I'm a perpetual beginner, so think I can not advise much!

Shuaib said...

Hi Chiranth,
Indeed thoughtful, and thought provoking insights these.

Brings me to ask:
1. When (age, situation) should one start to exercise?

2. Why should one exercise? or rather what are some good objectives to exercise?

3. How much exercise, and what type of exercise does one need - I'm certain that it's different for different objectives and different stages?

I often find people taking to exercise late i.e. when they have already lost health, or Shape - have grown an unpleasant paunch, and want to look like they did when they were 20 something - often falling prey to legends and myths.
And I must add leading to the dissolution from impatiens, and misinformation..

I would also like to ask the medical practitioners as to what their issues are with weight training, I'm sure you would find difference in opinions from General Physicians and Orthopedics..

I've heard opinions (not necessarily limited to medical practitioners) both ways:
- "Exercising with weights is unnatural, you don't need it unless your profession demands it.. it will cause problems later in life..".

- "Your body has been designed to move and function in ranges apart from what you normally put it through in a typical office/home day, therefore exercise in the other ranges.."

Thanks for the interesting post, I wish that you keep it up..

Keep Fit! Have a Happy Life!

chiranth said...

@Sridhar - yes, the individual's objective matters a lot in the choice of exercise. Having said that, while it may be OK to follow one type of exercise exclusively n the short-term, it is probably a bad idea in the long run. I believe long-term goals should revolve around overall fitness.

I often find people taking to exercise late i.e. when they have already lost health, or Shape

Touche :)

That apart, you do raise a lot of interesting points. I guess one does need to choose their workout program based on how fit one already is.

And my guess is that docs play it safer than they need to. Unless you see a doc who specializes in sport/fitness medicine.